Poster via Netflix
Content warning: mentions of homophobia
**This article contains spoilers for “XO Kitty” on Netflix.**
“XO, Kitty,” the spinoff of Netflix’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” was released in May of this year with decent ratings; with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 81% and an audience score of 58%, the show has started off on the right foot. That being said, with all the good aspects of the show, there are also bad ones. Let’s start with the good.
Personally, I found the show enjoyable. With the essence of a K-drama at its heart, the plot features an abundance of new characters and surprises introduced throughout the storyline. Thus, each episode is engaging and keeps the viewer on their toes. The plot twists are sometimes outrageous, but appealing nonetheless, and the characters are likable for the most part due to the actors’ charisma and talent.
The main character, Kitty Song Covey, is just as optimistic about love as she was in the “To All the Boys” series. Even though she can be overly invested in meddling in others’ romances, Anna Cathcart makes the character endearing by bringing a similar energy that Lana Condor brought to original series’ main lead, Lara Jean. Other notable performances include Sang Heon Lee as Min Ho, a fan-favorite love interest, and Anthony Keyvan as Quincy “Q” Shabazian, one of Kitty’s more rational best friends.
Yes, there is some acting and dialogue that may seem cringey and unrealistic at times, but “XO, Kitty” is a show intended for younger audiences who don’t necessarily care about or notice these faults. It’s a show that knows who its audience is and entertains them to the best of its ability.
The spinoff includes plenty of Asian American representation, much like its predecessor. While “To All the Boys” mentioned the Covey sisters’ family histories, “XO, Kitty” explores Kitty’s Korean ancestry. From featuring common family dynamics in South Korea to explaining Chuseok, a Korean holiday, the show delves into Korean culture in a way that many viewers might not have been previously familiar with.
Alongside its ethnic representation, “XO, Kitty” also provides a substantial amount of queer representation. The show explores a noteworthy storyline: the introduction of Kitty’s bisexuality. Jenny Han has confirmed in the past that — although not explicitly stated in her books — Kitty was written as bisexual, and I appreciated that the adaptation reflected this. With its audience in mind, this addition normalizes not only queer romance, but specifically young queer romance in television; riding on the popularity of the “To All the Boys” series, “XO, Kitty” helps guide queer relationships into mainstream media. It also refutes the accusations of LGBTQ+ characters being “forced” into the story, since queerness is a part of the main foundation of the show’s romantic plotlines.
However, there are also a few faults with the execution of the LGBTQ+ relationships. I’ll start with the MLM (men-loving men) relationship, which includes Kitty’s new friend, Q, and his French romantic interest, Florian (Théo Augier Bonaventure). The romance starts off fine; Q falls for Florian, who returns his affections, and they gradually become closer until they end up in a full-fledged relationship. The characters are fleshed out enough for viewers to root for them, and their dynamic is entertaining to watch on screen. However, during the last couple episodes, it is revealed that Florian cheated on his final exams, making Q feel uncomfortable with Florian’s morals and putting an end to their relationship.
It is understandable why Q would feel this way; the writers most likely included that scene to set a good example for its younger viewers. However, one of the main conflicts of the show is the fact that Dae (Minyeong Choi), Kitty’s boyfriend at the time, enters a fake relationship to help a closeted friend despite simultaneously dating Kitty. Throughout the season, Q puzzlingly remains one of Dae’s best friends and never seems to have an issue with his unethical behavior. Yet, when Florian’s grades drop and he cheats on a test to stay in school with his boyfriend, Q inexplicably feels morally obligated to distance himself from him. The plot twist comes off as an excuse for the show to not fully commit to a queer relationship. This would not be a problem if this lack of commitment was not repeatedly implemented into the storyline.
The next queer relationship that shares this issue is the WLW (women-loving women) one, which includes Kitty’s newest love interest, Yuri (Gia Kim), and her current girlfriend, Juliana (Regan Aliyah). The relationship between Yuri and Juliana themselves is not necessarily a problem. Even though their dynamic does not feel developed due to the lack of screen time, their relationship is likable enough to empathize with Yuri’s endeavors to come out.
In the show, Yuri mentions multiple times how homophobia is still very prevalent in Korea; this is the reason why she cannot come out to her family and the rest of society. Seeing as she is the daughter of an important businessman, it makes sense why she feels pressured to stay in the closet. The main problem with the relationship is the forced nature of Kitty’s feelings for Yuri. Although fans of the series greatly appreciate that Kitty’s sapphic identity is incorporated into the plot, the unexpected nature of her crush underlies the show’s lack of commitment towards queer relationships.
It must first be said that Yuri is the one who Dae is assumed to have been cheating on Kitty with. This is disproven but causes a major rift between Kitty and Dae, who had already been in an exclusive relationship with each other for a few years. For this reason, it is hard to understand why Kitty would immediately forgive Yuri, let alone fall for her. It is very likely that in the next season, some kind of problem will arise between Yuri and Juliana and cause them to ultimately break up. This could build up to a contrived romance between Kitty and Yuri, which could easily be scrapped considering that the long-term ex-boyfriend Dae and fan favorite Min Ho are both vying for her heart.
The relationship between Kitty and Yuri diminishes the importance of other queer romances in the show. Yuri and Juliana currently depict a healthy, communicative relationship between two protagonistic women. Though the pair has stayed together through difficult circumstances, not giving them an adequate amount of screentime to develop their relationship still shows a lack of commitment on the showrunners’ part. If the couple were to break up for the sake of drama or to “prove” that Kitty is not straight, their entire relationship would come across as a prop, and Juliana’s sole purpose in the show would be reduced to acting as a wedge between Kitty and Yuri.
The show is by no means bad. However, it contains multiple tropes that could cause harm if further developed. For example, Q and Florian are both out and their relationship is not a secret, while Yuri and Juliana are still firmly in the closet; the acceptance of one queer relationship and not the other feels imbalanced. Not to mention that the portrayal of Kitty’s sexuality as something that is scandalous — and if she were to cause Yuri and Juliana to break up, unethical — does more harm than good. There is a common misconception in the media that in order to be queer or bisexual, one has to be in a relationship with the same sex. “XO, Kitty” seems to be going down that path.
I am optimistic that the show, faults and all, will learn from its mistakes and represent the LGBTQ+ community properly in the future. For those who love lighthearted YA rom-coms, I would definitely recommend this show. The spinoff is family-friendly and easy to love, absolutely deserving of the same love “To All the Boys” received. With the show having been renewed for another season, I am grateful for its inclusive representation and hopeful that it will right its wrongs.
Author: Emerie Avila (She/Her)
Copy Editors: Maya Parra (She/Her), Emma Blakely (They/She/He)